FORT COLLINS — Award-winning landscape photographer Joshua Cripps has a story unlike any other photographer. Joshua didn’t pick up photography until his late 20s after his educational and career paths had already begun.
Joshua grew up in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and spent most of his time working on electrical equipment. From a very young age he knew he wanted to be an aerospace engineer. However, by the time he graduated the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, he decided he didn’t want anything to do with engineering.
He took the occasional snapshot, but somehow the photos weren’t telling the exact story he wanted to tell.
Instead, Joshua saved up his money and traveled around the world on a 19-month long trip. He traveled to incredible places like New Zealand, Thailand, and Mongolia. Along the way he took the occasional snapshot, but somehow the photos weren’t telling the exact story he wanted to tell. This got him thinking more about photography and what it could offer to telling the story of his travels.
This trip was possibly the best thing to happen to Joshua. It gave him the idea to start taking up photography as a hobby, which eventually led him to pursue photography full time.
On top of his world travel, Joshua also travels up and down California teaching Sea to Summit Photography Workshops. We tracked him down to do a quick Q&A of his experiences:
Q: What have your travels taught you about photography? Are there any particular lessons you have learned while traveling?
A: If anything, I’d say it’s the other way around: what has photography taught me about traveling and life? A great many things: live in the moment for sure. Be present now to have the most enjoyable life. Also that opportunity doesn’t knock just once. It knocks over and over and over again, but only if you keep looking for it. It’s taught me that things are worth doing right, or not at all. That aesthetics and beauty can be virtues. That going out and exploring are just as important as finding exactly what you’re looking for. That you should never give up. That failure is a good thing as long you keep trying. And that the world is far too beautiful, strange, and wonderful a place to be content sitting at home.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring travel photographer?
A: Shoot what you love, plain and simple. If you want to fuel your passion, shoot what speaks to you.
Q: What are some tips you might give to hobbyists or beginner photographers new to traveling?
A: Don’t be afraid. The world is not a scary place, just a mysterious one. But 99.99 percent of the people living on it are just like you: they want a good life for themselves and their families, they’re kind and compassionate, curious, and friendly. So let go of the anchor and head off into the sea of the unknown.
Practically speaking, pack light. You don’t need half as much as you think you do. Talk to the locals. Take public transportation. But mostly, just go.
Q: What makes a good photo stand out from the average?
A: Any great photo has four elements: 1) An interesting subject, 2) A composition that shows that subject off in a compelling way, 3) Good technical choices that underscore the story of the photo, and 4) Great light. If you don’t have a good photo it’s because you’re missing one of those four things. As far as what makes an interesting photo, show me something new. A new place, a new perspective, a new concept, a new experience. That’s what gets people hooked.
Q: When traveling, what equipment do you usually take with you into the field and why?
A: I like to go light, because a lighter pack and less stuff means more comfort on the road. So before each shoot I think about the kinds of photos I’d really like to capture and choose my equipment accordingly. For example, when I’m backpacking in the Sierra I’m specifically chasing big, beautiful landscapes, so I bring an wide zoom lens, my lightweight Nikon D750, a 50mm prime, a carbon fiber tripod, and a handful of filters. I don’t bring my heavy 70-200mm lens because I’m not as interested in trying to capture an amazing wildlife image, so that saves me three pounds in my pack.
But for big trips, like international ones, where I’m not 100 percent sure what I’ll find, I bring everything I own: two bodies, my wide zoom, an ultra-wide prime lens, my telephoto, a mid range lens good for filming, my GoPro, extra batteries and chargers, and all of my filters. Then day to day I’ll pare my kit down depending on what the goals for the day are.
Q: Which is your favorite lens/camera body to use when traveling and why?
A: I really like my Nikon D750 because it has incredible image quality and detail, and is a great camera for night photography, but it’s small and light. I like my 18-35mm zoom for the same reason: fantastic quality and sharpness in a lightweight package. I can carry those two all day and not feel over-strained.
Q: The elements are a huge factor to consider while going out on a photo-shoot. How do you handle unpredictable weather conditions? Do you have any examples of when this has happened to you?
A: Rule #1: be prepared! Whenever there’s any chance of inclement weather, I make sure I have my weatherproof cover for my camera bag, as well as a rain-sleeve for my camera. Bad weather is pretty common in landscape photography. In fact, I chase it, because the edges of storms often create the kinds of dramatic light I love. There was a backpacking trip I did in the Sierra in the heart of monsoon season in 2013. Every day from 2 p.m. till 5 p.m. the thunder would crash and boom, and hail and rain would flood out of the sky. I would photograph up to the point that the clouds let loose, then I would jump inside my tent with all my gear and lie there listening to the ruckus outside. As soon as the downpour subsided I’d emerge from my tent and photograph the storms as they broke up. And every day this would result in fantastic photos, including one of the top images I’ve ever created.
Q: What do you love most about traveling and travel photography?
A: The memories. The only real currency in life is time and the only thing really worth spending it on is an experience. At the end of your days, the fact that you had an iPhone 6 isn’t going to mean shit to you. But all the amazing places you saw, the people you knew, and the memories you created will. That’s what I want to fill my life with. And thanks to travel and photography I’ve already got a life full of incredible experiences, like hiking in the Peruvian Andes, drinking yak’s milk in Mongolia, scuba diving in Vietnam, and watching the aurora dance from an Alaskan hot spring in the middle of winter.
Q: If you could photograph any place in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I’m really fascinated with off-the-beaten path, wild locations. So lately the two places I’ve had on my mind which are really similar are the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. The surreal landscapes, the untouched forests, rivers, and volcanoes, the wildlife, and the people. It all appeals to me. I’m in the very early stages of organizing a trip to Kamchatka so hopefully soon I’ll be able to fulfill that goal!
Q: What is your favorite place to photograph and why?
A: That’s an easy one: New Zealand! It’s my absolute favorite place on the planet because it’s like a theme park for nature lovers. You want beaches? Sure, here are some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen. You want mountains? No problem, here is an incredibly jagged, glaciated range. Fjords? Check. Waterfalls? Check. Volcanoes, rainforests, wildlife? Check, check, check. The variety is astonishing, made even more so by the fact that the whole country is around the same size as California. It’s a true dream destination for any nature photographer.